Delta implemented a rule January 1 that access to their Sky Clubs is limited to passengers flying the airline or its designated partners the same day. It used to be the benefit of a ‘real’ club membership versus access through American Express Platinum was the ability to use the Delta lounge even when not flying Delta. Now there’s no such advantage.
New Club Access Rules Go Into Effect Today for United and American
Since American and United copy Delta for all the wrong things, both of those airlines implement this same rule today. Clubs used to be for members. Now instead of memberships you can think of what you’re buying as a year’s subscription for an add-on service with your flights.
One thing I have to give Delta credit for: they continue to honor access for lifetime club members, who purchased the ability to use Delta clubs whenever they’re at the airport. They never attempted to renege on the commitment.
American initially said that even lifetime members who purchased club membership years ago would have the terms changed on them (no refunds!). However they backtracked and lifetime American Airlines Admirals Club members can continue to use the clubs even when flying another airline.
United Sold Lifetime Club Memberships, Changes The Terms of Those Memberships
United has held firm that they can take a customer’s money for a lifetime service and change the terms (the “our fingers were crossed” rule). Unlike Delta and American, people who purchased lifetime United Club memberships cannot continue to use United Clubs unless they’re flying United or designated partners same day.
Several readers have asked me whether there’s any chance that United would blink – like American did – before the policy went into effect. I reached out to United and they explained that, no,
their fingers were crossed the new rules will apply even to people who bought their memberships years ago. A spokesperson shares,
We continue to make investments to improve the overall travel experience for our customers and we’re considering all aspects of their journey, including their United Club experience. United Club customers – all members (annual and Lifetime) and their guests, as well as one-time pass holders – will need a same-day boarding pass for travel on United, Star Alliance or a contracted partner for entry into all United Club locations. This change should help alleviate the capacity concerns in our spaces, allowing for more available seating and easier access to amenities like beverages and light snacks, agent assistance and power outlets – all of which will help improve the customer’s experience.
Reneging on Commitment to Lifetime Club Members Provides Easier Access to These Snacks
I’m willing to take bets – and give odds – that this change will not alleviate crowding in United Clubs at peak times. Indeed, the problem in Newark is that the airline simply took away their primary club to give it to international business class passengers (Polaris lounge) and hasn’t replaced it.
However the crowding issue is a non sequitur in any case because there’s no world in which they can claim the problem of crowding is due to lifetime United Club members accessing lounges when not flying United. And even if it was the cause, it would have been a mistake on United’s part to offer these memberships and therefore the responsibility of United to make good on them.
United Has a Track Record of Reneging on Lifetime Commitments
United, more than any other airline, has taken the position that they can change the rules on lifetime programs whenever they wish and even when they explicitly say they will not do so. That’s a familiar refrain for Silver Wings members and for lifetime MileagePlus elites who were promised annual upgrades.
United explained to a judge that they can change the lifetime program any time they wish, indeed that United’s regular customers should know better than to trust lifetime promises.
Judge Hamilton: To understand the difference between lifetime and fingers crossed? That lifetime doesn’t mean lifetime?
United: That lifetime means lifetime unless…
Judge Wood: Unless we change our mind.
Judge Hamilton: Unless we change our mind.
United: Yes, that’s exactly right. That’s the case.
The judge in the case concluded for United but you can tell he was shaking his head at the airline’s audacity when he did it.
United’s defense here is that the airline’s very best customers—its Million Mile Flyers—should have known better than to believe United’s promise of “lifetime” benefits. This defense amounts to a confession of consumer fraud. United could not—honestly and legally—promise “lifetime” benefits while reserving the right to cancel its promise at any time and for any reason.
Telling Lifetime Club Members “Our Fingers Were Crossed” Undermines Trust for Everyone
To me United’s decision to change the rules for something customers purchased after the fact undermines CEO Oscar Munoz’s credibility to claims that the airline is motivated by a desire to do the right thing for customers. It all come down to trust. But then what do you think their elimination of award charts means?
And the decision to blame lifetime club members for crowding simply strains the airline’s credibility even further.